Monday, 4 August 2014

Nick Briggs Interview Extra



Hi Nick, thanks for agreeing to take part.


It has been 15 years since Big Finish launched. What are your most proudest moments in that time?

Nick: 15 years of Big Finish Doctor Who. There’s an old fashioned view that pride is a sin, and if that is true, then I’m quite a sinner. I have to admit that I’ve lost count of the moments I’m proud of. I suppose, winning the BBC Audio Drama award for Dark Eyes was a pretty proud moment. The award was for the production as a whole, so all of us won it! Getting Tom Baker to agree to come on board with us. The fact that he’s having such a fun time with us, that makes me proud. I’m generally proud of the great time we give all those who work for Big Finish. I’m proud I’ve been able to, for the most part, get the right people on board behind the scenes to make the whole, improbable operation actually work.

Are there any audios that you are especially proud of, either of your own making or not?

Nick: Immodestly, I’m proud of a lot of mine, but often because of what other people have brought to them. Alistair Lock’s sound design and music for The Dalek Contract and The Final Phase was so good it made me weep with nostalgia, for example. I’m very proud of David Richardson’s achievements. He does such brilliant work and his enthusiasm inspires me. I love what he’s done with Counter Measures and Survivors and can’t wait to see what he’ll cook up for The Omega Factor. The Worlds of Doctor Who is going to be a corker too! Scott Handcock is doing some great stuff for us. I think James Goss and he have done brilliant work on the New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield. And Scott has produced and directed the fantastic Frankenstein. Arthur Darvill is amazing in that.

Do you think there have been any mistakes made along the way?

Nick: I think there are inevitably mistakes. A lot of them have been organisational. The website was not as fit for purpose as it should have been for a long time. The trouble is, when an area is not your speciality, you are rather open to having the wool pulled over your eyes. I won’t elaborate further, but I was finally given vital help by my good friend and colleague Kris Griffin (our marketing guru), and this enabled us to turn things round. Now, we’re only caught out by things being more popular than we anticipated, which isn’t the worst of mistakes. I’m not very fond of The Nowhere Place. I think it’s largely a bad script — that’s a personal mistake of mine. Do you want to prompt me with anything you think is a mistake?

Which ranges continue to prove the most popular?

Nick: The Doctor Who ranges are our most popular. I think the Tom Baker ones, by virtue of being something new, sold quicker. But all the Doctors are popular. 

Are there any writers that you believe have particularly excelled themselves on audio?

Nick: I think all our writers put in maximum effort, so I feel a bit bad naming particular writers. I worry it might upset the others, but hey-ho, I’ll wade in. Forgive any tactlessness, folks. I think John Dorney, Matt Fitton and Jonathan Morris are our kind of ‘go to’ guys for most things. They really get it. I think Alan Barnes is a story genius. His guidance makes most of the stories he deals with so much better. Jonathan Barnes is a rare and precious talent. His Sherlock Holmes scripts and his adaptation of Frankenstein are great works.

Going back to a question that I asked you in the previous interview about the criticism about the lack of female writers/directors working with Big Finish do you think that steps have been taken to rectify this? Certainly there have been releases recently that have had a dominating female presence (Charley Pollard: The Shadow at the Edge of the World, Starborn, The Abandoned) plus the emergence of Una McCormack, Emma Beeby and Louise Jameson to the writing pool.

Nick: I think steps are being taken. I think it’s important that a broad range of people with a broad range of life experiences write for us. Sometimes it’s difficult to pursue that policy with purity, because we need things fast; but we’re persisting.

The subject of the 4DAs is a divisive one of the online forums. Some people adore the traditional nature of the majority of the stories and others disapprove of the lack of ambition, the stories mostly sticking to tried and tested formulas. How do you respond to this? Are they one of the highest selling ranges thanks to the draw of Tom Baker and his supporting companions (Louise Jameson, Mary Tamm, Lalla Ward)? Are there any plans to reunite Tom, Lalla and Matthew Waterhouse for more E-Space adventures? 

Nick: I wasn’t really aware of that criticism. I think we have a responsibility to be authentic, but I do actually reject the notion that there’s a lack of ambition and a sticking to tried and tested formulas. I also think that sticking to a tried and tested formula is not a lack of ambition. Tried and tested ideas are actually the hardest to get right. Anyone can go crazy and invent ‘Monkey Tennis’ or just do crazy stuff without rules. I think the hardest job is to make sure something feels like it belongs in a particular era of Doctor Who, then give it a twist. None of the stuff we’ve done with the Fourth Doctor could have actually been broadcast back in the Seventies. It’s too modern in its approach, but, like the incidental music in these releases, it has a feel of the old ways, but reinvents itself for a newer, more sophisticated Doctor Who audience. I don’t know the precise criticism, but I would acknowledge the scenarios might seem familiar or tried and tested, but we go further with them and do new things. For example, my script for Destroy the Infinite was a deliberate attempt to use lots of very traditional Doctor Who ideas. Conquest, possession, space-opera etc. But I was using the fact that those are traditional, familiar themes and settings in the series as a kind of shorthand to tell an anti-war story. It seems to be like a typical ‘invaded planet’ story. It seems to be about aliens taking people over. It seems to be about battles and explosions. What it’s really about is how there can be no real winners in war, because it dehumanises. Yes, an evil foe can be vanquished, but that process leaves the victors perhaps a little less human than they were. I don’t think that kind of story lacks ambition or is traditional. 
As I say, I think the Tom series sold quicker, but ultimately the sales balance out between all the Doctors.
There are no plans to reunite the E-space team currently.

You have written a great deal of 4DAs now. Do you have any favourites? Is there an urge to write to please Tom or are you always invested in the story first? Can you tell us a little of each of the stories that you have written and what your inspiration was?
 
Nick: Aha, I’ve started to answer one of these questions already. I don’t really have favourites. I don’t write to please Tom, although luckily he always does seem pleased with my scripts, because he finds them pleasingly preposterous, I write for the Fourth Doctor. I’ve said this before, but the trick is not to write ‘whacky’ stuff for Tom. If you look at the best Tom Baker stories, the dialogue is pretty functional most of the time, with the exception of a few standout moments. It’s what Tom brings to it that’s important. It’s when Tom puts a bizarre and unexpected spin on a traditional adventure story situation — like running away from monsters etc — that the real magic occurs. I do accommodate a lot of his suggestions during studio sessions, because a lot of them are brilliant.
As for the stories themselves… A lot of them are suggestions from David Richardson, who is the real creative force behind these releases. Destination: Nerva was his idea. He thought it would be fun to bring back Nerva. We had some false starts with that. I wasn’t originally going to write it, but the other script wasn’t quite doing it for us, so David asked me to write it instead. Energy of the Daleks was the first one we did and I wrote that pretty fast. My inspiration was a couple of documentaries I’d seen. One was about solar panels on the Moon, the other was about how vital the Moon’s distance from Earth is. Any tiny deviation and we’re screwed. I thought the Daleks might know that! The Sands of Life/War Against the Laan stories were inspired by early conversations with Tom, when he wanted to do his ‘whale’ story… you know the one! I said, ‘Look Tom, I can’t do your story about the whales killing the Japanese whalers, but if you’ll trust me, I can do a more sic-fi style story with sort of whale-like creatures and get the moral across.’ Tom seemed fine with that. David asked me to wrap up that season with two connected Dalek stories, also tying in the character of Cuthbert (from Sands of Life — this character was something I created for the old AV stories). Destroy the Infinite was inspired by the movie Sink The Bismark, and my desire to create a new menace to challenge all our Doctors, the Eminence! The Evil One was again commissioned by David, who asked me to write a Master story. I was lost for a while, but then we started chatting about how Leela’s father had been very roughly treated in Face of Evil and that was our starting point. What if the Master knew about how Leela’s father had died? Zygon Hunt: David asked me to write a Zygon story and set it on an alien planet. I didn’t want it to be a straight, bad Zygons fight good humans story, so I set out to write something morally ambiguous.

Your vocal talents are now legendary in the TV series and audios? Without listing all of the monsters/characters that you have played in fear of overwhelming you...do you have any particular favourites (beyond the Daleks).

Nick: Well, the Daleks really are my favourites. But I also love playing Sherlock Holmes.

Robophobia was a chance to write a sequel to the extremely popular Robots of Death. Was that a daunting prospect? You capture a cheeky, manipulative seventh Doctor. Why was he so secretive in this adventure? Did you see potential in Nicola Walker as a regular character from the off? Jamie Robertson provides some stunning music...were pleased with the overall result?

Nick: Alan Barnes asked me to write a sequel to Robots of Death and he made one stipulation. He said, it must turn the original concept on its head. Make it about humans destroying robots. Which is what I sort of did. I was a bit daunted to start with and had long chats on the phone with Alan about it. But once he’d set me on my way, I was all fired up and really enjoyed writing it. Alan’s brilliant like that. I think one of Sylvester’s biggest strengths is that very quiet, all-knowing quality he’s so good at. I love it when he just pops up now and again and people say, ‘Who the hell was that?’ I wanted to create in Liv Chenka a character who people might want to be a companion; but I wanted her not to be in a position to go with him. One that got away. I have to say that she was brilliant and David Richardson encouraged me to bring her back for Dark Eyes 2.

I can't help but notice that you seem to earmark the Colin Baker stories to direct. Is there a reason for this beyond simply wanting to work with Colin? Is it preferable to direct an entire trilogy of stories rather than an individual one. Were you happy with the second Flip trilogy and will we be seeing any more of her after that gripping cliff-hanger ending? 

Nick: The fact is that I’m rushed off my feet and working flat out all the time. This means I have to delegate. And there are talented people in the team who need to express themselves. Those are the reasons why I don’t do everything! I can’t run all the trilogies. I largely leave Sylvester and Peter to Alan Barnes and Ken Bentley. I don’t work that closely on those. I see the story lines and comment. I have concentrated on Colin ever since I got involved with the Charley Pollard stories. I get on with all the Doctors and pop into recording sessions to say hi whenever I have the chance, but I suppose I have known Colin the longest and have a special affinity for working with him. Of course, I do most of the Tom Baker ones as well. If my name isn’t down as a director on those, it’s because I simply wasn’t available. Back to the trilogies, I think it’s not essential to direct a whole trilogy — recently I directed just one of a Colin Baker trilogy — but sometimes it can help to keep the thread of any story arcs going through them. I was very happy with the second Flip trilogy, because working with Lisa Greenwood is such a pleasure. It was also lovely to be able to get Anjli Mohindra in too. And there will be more of Flip. Of course there will be!

Dark Eyes has really kicked off a renewed interest in the 8th Doctor (aided no doubt by Night of the Doctor and Steven Moffat's comments about the continuing audio adventures). Does the eighth Doctor's future lie solely in box sets? Is this in finite story or do you intend for it to run and run? Are other commitments what is keeping you from the next instalment in the series? What are your thoughts on the first two box sets? 

Nick: All our plans for the Eighth Doctor are for box sets, currently, because we think it works well for him. That’s just a gut feeling thing. These epic, dark stories are very much what Paul likes to do too. In many ways, I felt I’d told my story in Dark Eyes. It was Jason’s brilliant idea to make it into a four box set series, so I had discussions with Alan Barnes and Matt Fitton. They had some brilliant ideas, so I thought it was only right that they should run with them. I wanted to write a kind of transitional story, introducing my character Liv Chenka into the Eighth Doctor stories, then I handed it over to them. I continue to oversee stories and scripts on Dark Eyes, though. But Dark Eyes ends with Dark Eyes 4. We already have a great new sequence of stories lined up, which David Richardson and Ken Bentley are handling. It’s going to be great.

Can you offer us any sneak peeks into Big Finish's future? Are there any exciting projects coming up?

Nick: As you know, we’re doing a dramatisation of Russell T Davies’s Doctor Who novel, Damaged Goods. There’s more Sherlock Holmes coming up, with The Judgement of Sherlock Holmes. And then there’s The Omega Factor, which I’m very excited about. But I can’t give you any exclusives. Will you forgive me? I’m currently working on an Early Adventures script for the Troughton Era and I’ll be directing something linked to the Pertwee Era. There, some tiny hints for you...

Thank you for your time, Nick. It is much appreciated.

You are most welcome, Joe. Hope that was all okay for you.

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